CHELSEA'S Champions League semi-final against Barcelona is a massive game that could have huge repercussions domestically as well as in Europe, and the likes of Arsenal, Spurs and Newcastle could all be forgiven for supporting Lionel Messi and co at the Camp Nou this evening.
The reason is that if Chelsea, who are currently sixth in the Premier League, make it past Barcelona and go on to win the Champions League final then they will automatically qualify for next year's competition, taking the place of the team that finishes fourth in the league.
That means that only the top three in the Premier League would get Champions League football next season, rendering the dogfight for fourth place irrelevant.
The qualification rules were changed after Liverpool's Champions League triumph in 2005. Although they won the competition that year they finished fifth in the league and were only entered into the competition after Uefa gave them special dispensation. The Reds were forced to go through qualifying, but in the end only four English teams made it to the group stages as Everton, who had finished above Liverpool in fourth place the season before, were knocked out by Villareal.
But now the rules are clear - the winners of the Champions League will get the chance to defend their title. So, if Chelsea win the competition and finish outside the top four then they qualify and the three other berths go to the top three in the league, although the team that comes third must go through a play-off.
In that scenario the two teams that miss out on the Champions League would still qualify for the Europa League, thanks to the fact that the FA Cup final is between Chelsea and Liverpool, who would both already have European spots.
It all makes the fight for third place in the Premier League even more intriguing. At present Arsenal are three points ahead of Newcastle, but the Magpies have a game in hand. Fifth placed Spurs are three points further back and have played the same number of games as Newcastle. They are just one point ahead of Chelsea in sixth.
The good news for the likes of Newcastle, Spurs and Arsenal is that the only way Chelsea can grab the fourth Champions League spot while finishing outside the top four, is by winning the final. Uefa confirmed to TheWeek.co.uk that the only way Chelsea can upset the apple cart is by winning the trophy. Just making it to the final will not be enough. ·